Written, directed and starring Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, Ted is a comedy that sounds better conceptually than it comes off on screen. MacFarlane’s gift for animated comedy on television may be celebrated by many (although his work is little more than the feebler cousin to the The Simpsons and South Park), but stretching things out to feature film length has generated more than a few snags.
Arguing about whether or not Ted is an offensive film is kind of futile. There are homophobic turns and the female characters are absolutely purposeless, serving as either entertainment for man and bear or charitable and long-suffering bystanders/plot devices. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that MacFarlane’s talent isn’t for dimension.
Ted opens with Patrick Stewart serving as the narrator describing a lonely boy named John (Bretton Manley) who receives a teddy bear for Christmas. He makes a wish that the thing could talk for real and it is granted. He has a friend forever (and a “thunder buddy”). Years later, John (Mark Wahlberg) is all grown up and still hanging out with Ted (MacFarlane). They smoke pot (a lot) and hang out.
Somehow John has landed an attractive girlfriend named Lori (Mila Kunis), but life with Ted is starting to take its toll. John and Lori have been dating four years and she is expecting things to move to the next level, but she also wants her man to get his life together. Is it time for John and Ted to go their separate ways? Or can there truly be peace between man, woman and talking bear?
Like much of MacFarlane’s work, the comedy comes from pushing the envelope and coddling the abrasiveness while concurrently laying the groundwork for disgust. The game works best with more offensive material, like the sending up of racist stereotypes (see Ted’s “joke” about a character he believes to be a Muslim and 9/11) while still indulging at the expense of said stereotype. It’s humour for those who want it both ways: the oaf can be dismissed or celebrated, depending on perspective.
As a character, Ted is pretty basic. He’s a stoner and a loudmouth. He’s somehow bedded many women, including a famous singer. And he, along with John, harbours a penetrating obsession with the 1980s (a MacFarlane hallmark) that leads to some trouble and a bizarre sequence that includes Sam “Flash Gordon” Jones playing himself at a party.
John and Lori, meanwhile, are a desperately implausible couple. With a flashback that rips off Airplane! while presumably thinking it’s ripping off Top Gun and a slew of cardboard conversations that find Lori playing the role of Captain Bringdown, it’s hard to imagine their relationship as at all genuine. This means that Kunis is (once again) absolutely misused.
Into this flat mishmash, MacFarlane stuffs in not one but two subplots. The first involves Giovanni Ribisi and Aedin Mincks as a father and son who want Ted for their very own. The second involves Joel McHale as Lori’s engrossed boss. The former serves to give the film its action-packed finale, while the latter is another diversion on the road to the predictable.
Ted isn’t a bad looking feature film, all things considered. The motion capture is skillfully done, while MacFarlane’s directorial style is capable and relatively fluid. He doesn’t employ many tricks and isn’t overly imaginative, but the movie is at least a fair shade better than a made-for-TV flick.
In the end, though, Ted is a disappointment. It is an astonishingly benign and bland movie, a dreary exercise in everything that is already known about MacFarlane’s crop. There is no real reason or purpose, save for being a sort of bear-assisted stoner comedy about a dude who landed a hot girl and has relationship issues, and that really makes the whole thing feel like a wasted opportunity.